Muller After a Handful of Games
Even after this handful of games with Muller, I think it's clear he is a young coaching star who fits with the organization. I like how he is approaching the crisis the Hurricanes are facing. I also much prefer his vision of an up tempo, aggressive style of play. I do think the roster has to be reworked to fit his preferred approach.
There are no wretched players on the team other than Kaberle. Kaberle is in a universe of his own; and rivals the worst defensemen the organization has had in a decade. Kaberle is not only out of shape, he is milking the system. It's the downside to guaranteed contracts because the few players like Kaberle who are going through the motions get rewarded nonetheless.
For the Hurricanes, the choices are limited. They can waive Kaberle and pay him to play in Charlotte. They can play Kaberle and try to see if he can somehow decide he wants to play NHL hockey. If Kaberle plays, the likelihood is that the Hurricanes will finish with a top 3 pick. There is always the chance he will improve and that some other GM will be foolish enough to take him. The reward of a top 3 pick is so tremendous that the Hurricanes organization ought to keep playing Kaberle as much as they can tolerate.
The next culture change for the Hurricanes, however, runs contrary to playing Kaberle. The organization has to adopt an "eat what you kill" approach. Time on ice needs to be awarded based on quality of play not size of the contract. It's a hard thing to institute; but Muller has the gravitas to make it work. The next important organization shift is that Jim Rutherford needs to abandon the recirculation of former players. These rethreads cause more harm than good on balance. It isn't that every rethread is terrible; but the overall impact on the team is negative.
In specific terms, the Hurricanes need to use this year as a retooling year. Muller needs to continue giving auditions to the players and to give every player a clean slate. Once he feels all the veterans have had their opportunity to impress, the lines need to be reworked. As soon as feasible, the Skinner/Ruutu/Jokinen line should be brought back. Similarly, as soon as possible Dalpe and Boychuk need to be given real first line duty. It might require a Ponikarovsky/Staal/Dalpe or a Ponikarovsky/Staal/Boychuk line; but ultimately it's time to run Dalpe/Staal/Boychuk. The result simply cannot be worse that what we have seen.
Roster spaces need to be created by trading Gleason or Allen, LaRose, and Kaberle. The ideal situation would be to obtain draft choices because the 2012 draft is quite deep, especially the top 10 to 15 players. In projecting lines, for 2012,2013 here are some possibilities:
Rask/Sutter/Boychuk or Stewart
It's time to get younger, but also time to have four solid lines and three scoring forward lines. Rask, Dalpe, and Boychuk in particular are wildcards. Rask is improving significantly each game and is blossoming in the WHL. Dalpe and Boychuk should also prosper under Muller. The addition of Yakupov or Grigorenko would be a sea change.
Defensively, the Hurricanes have Pitkanen, McBain, Faulk, Murphy, Allen or Gleason, Harrison, and Joslin. Dumoulin and Murphy will be the defensive wildcards. It's time for the Hurricanes to go young and go hard. In the end, talent with commitment and hockey intelligence wins games. There is no reason to think the Hurricanes can be a top six team until the talent is top six. Similarly, when other GMs start talking about the Hurricanes' young stars, we will all know the Hurricanes transformation is underway.